Growing Flintshire sports scheme helps tackle drugs barons

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A project aimed at giving disadvantaged young people in Flintshire the chance to play sport has been expanded to thanks to money seized from criminals.

The programme run by the not-for-profit organisation, Aura Leisure and Libraries, has increased the number of sites where it operates from six to 10 as a result of a £10,000 grant designed to combat the threat of County Lines which sees vulnerable youngsters recruited by big city gangs to traffic drugs.

The money came from a special fund set up by North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones who went with Assistant Chief Constable Sacha Hatchett to watch one of Aura’s football sessions in Hawarden.

Aura was awarded the grant as part of the Your Community Your Choice initiative aimed at organisations who pledge to run projects to tackle anti-social behaviour and combat crime and disorder in line with the priorities within the Police Commissioner’s Police and Crime Plan.

The scheme, supported by North Wales Police and the North Wales Police and Community Trust (PACT), uses the ill-gotten gains of criminals to fund community groups.

Aura’s Dan Williams and fellow school community sports co-ordinator Emma Birks say the sessions are proving a big hit with young people across Flintshire.

Dan said: “We run sessions for young people aged 15 to 18 at 10 sites across Flintshire including two in Saltney, Garden City, Hope, Holywell, Flint and we are starting a new session in Mostyn in the new year.

“It’s about tackling anti-social behaviour and County Lines drug issues. In the past calendar year, we have engaged directly with more than 3,000 young people by providing free weekly sessions.”

He added: “The grant we have received from the Police and Crime Commissioner goes a long way to ensuring we can continue with these sessions and engage with even more young people.

“It’s a great way to use money seized as a result of criminal activity and is certainly helping communities across Flintshire.”

Emma Birks added: “It isn’t just about football; we leave it to those attending to decide what they want to do. We have run basketball and American football sessions too and run trips to football matches at Everton.

“The important thing is the sessions are free and open to any local young person and we do have girls attending too, it isn’t just about boys.

Among those who take part regularly are Hadyn Roberts, of Queensferry, Jack Ryan of Hawarden and Dean Plank of Wrexham, all 17.

Dean, who is studying computer science, maths and physics at Yale College, said: “I live in Wrexham but come over as I was from Flintshire and know a lot of the lads. I really enjoy it.

“It’s better than playing computer games or hanging around with nothing to do. It means we get together as mates and have a good game.”

Hadyn, a level 3 personal fitness coach at Coleg Cambria, added: “It’s a great way to spend time with mates without causing a nuisance. The sessions are brilliant and it’s a good way to meet up with mates.

“It’s better doing these sessions than hanging around the streets with little or nothing to do. I believe it’s a great way for the police to spend money seized from criminals. It just makes so much sense.”

Jack, a sixth form student at Hawarden High School who is studying geography, maths and the Welsh Bac and wants to work as a sports journalist, added: “If we weren’t here, we’d more than likely be kicking a ball about in a car park and be getting moaned at. “

Mr Jones, a former police inspector, said: “I’m delighted we were able to award £10,000, a substantial sum of money, to this Aura-run project.

“It’s great to see so many young men and teenagers here enjoying an organised football session. It isn’t just football; it’s whatever sport or activity the young people want to try.

“I wanted to ensure money was spent where it was most needed and young people living in the east of Flintshire can be vulnerable to organised gangs from the North West of England’s big cities and more densely populated towns due to the area’s geographical location.

“If we can stop young people from getting involved in County Lines drug issues and other organised crime that has to be priority. I’m impressed with these sessions that are free for the young people taking part. It’s a fantastic project and one I was keen to support.”

Assistant Chief Constable Sacha Hatchett added: “It’s vital we use the money seized from criminals for something positive.

“It is vital we offer young people the opportunity to participate in projects such as this

if we are to prevent them from falling foul of criminal gangs and exploitation.

“This project is giving lots of young people the opportunity to engage in sporting activities instead of hanging around the streets bored.

“It’s a wonderful idea and I have no doubt the young people I’ve met here will benefit enormously from being able to meet up as friends and participate in sport. It’s a win, win situation. We have seized money from criminals and are using that cash to benefit communities.”

Police Community Support Officer Stephanie Jones said: “Hawarden was cropping up quite a lot as a place where occasional anti-social behaviour was being experienced when I first started. I got together with Dan Williams to see what we could organise and I’m delighted with the way it’s worked out.

“We held the first session here nearly three years ago and it’s proved so successful. The issue is boredom with nothing else to do young people would often be left to hang around the streets – and that leaves them open to exploitation from county lines and other criminal gangs.

“We have seen anti-social behaviour fall to a level where it’s a real surprise if anything is reported. We are talking about young people who are at an age when they could be acting anti-socially but instead are engaged with sport.

“It’s proved a real success story and the money from the Police and Crime Commissioner and PACT means more sessions can be held attracting even more young people.”